Wednesday, May 27, 2015

how to win at 'chicken'

Two cars head toward each other. 

The first driver to swerve loses the game, along with some stature among his adolescent peers. 

On the other hand, if neither driver bails out, both lose in a bigger way. 

What to do? 

Toss your steering wheel out the window in full view of the other driver. 

Once convinced that you’re irrevocably committed to your course, he will, if rational, do the swerving himself.

Friday, May 22, 2015

aberrant salience meets rosser reeves uptown

The term 'salience' - in marketing speak - refers to the likelihood that a particular brand will ‘come to mind’ easily in buying situations. 

In How Brands Grow, Professor Sharp uses the term to describe the idea of ‘mental availability’.

The easier a brand is to remember, in more buying situations, for more potential buyers, then the higher the overall mental ‘availability’ of the brand, ergo the more likelihood that the most salient brand will be bought.

Salience is also widely used in cognitive science, to describe the attention grabbing quality of things in general.

This is where ad people often get slightly confused.
While a campaign may be salient in the cognitive sense – its content is eye catching or entertaining for example – its effectiveness as a branding vehicle depends of how easily it is for those who view or interact will 'remember' which brand it was at an appropriate buying opportunity.

This requires subconscious (and conscious) brand cues throughout, fuelling the content-addressable memoryBranded neuro-richness, if you prefer.

Therefore ad salience and brand salience are two halves of the job.

Much of the so-called branded content out there seems to fail on these points.

It’s neither ad salient (i.e. brand content that is pitched as ‘comic’ is nowhere near as funny as regular unbranded comedy therefore does not stand-out) nor is it brand salient (assuming one has the mettle to stick it out through five or six minutes of sub standard 'entertainment' the branding itself may fleetingly appear only on the end frame).

Medical conditions such as psychosis and schizophrenia are also now widely believed to involve, at least in part, a problem with the mind’s regulation of salience.

In states of psychosis ordinary or commonplace things appear more important or alarming than they should.

In extreme cases this can take the form of delusions or hallucinations.
More than being mistaken or perhaps mild confusion they can include disturbing states such as believing that your thoughts are being manipulated by aliens, somehow external forces are controlling your actions, or believing that people want to engage in meaningful relationships with brands.

This idea, ‘Psychosis as a state of aberrant salience’ was popularised by the psychiatrist Shitij Kapur.

Kapur’s Aberrant Salience Theory connects delusions and hallucinations to differences in dopamine function.

He argues that dopamine is crucial in highlighting which things are ‘motivationally important’, how they stand out from each other.

Dopamine plays a critical role in the function of the central nervous system, and is also linked with the brain's complex system of motivation and reward.

Dopamine release can be artificially stimulated through the use of drugs like MDMA (Ecstacy), whereas instances where dopamine release would naturally occur include during sex, or when hugging your child, or when a Twitter campaign delivers a 1500% ROI.

Advertising’s adaptation of Aberrant Salience theory is known as the Rosser Reeves Fallacy.

Reeves was one of the most famous ad men of the 50s, and also inventor of the ‘unique selling proposition’.

We can hang him for that one in another post, for this one we want to focus on his equally flawed method for measuring ad effectiveness

In simple terms Reeves method involved taking a sample of your target customer, show them your advertising and see how many of them recognise it.

Compare scores for yay vs nay and there’s your effect.

The Reeves theory is grabbing the wrong end of the stick, the problem is that people are far more likely to notice and remember advertising for the brands they use and like.

And a brand's Facebook fans or social media following tend also to be heavier buyers.
Of course they are, that's why they become fans in the first place.
They become fans of brands that they already know, already like and already use.

As Les Binet and Sarah Carter explain in their Mythbuster series:

‘These new digital incarnations of the Rosser Reeves Fallacy are particularly dangerous. Because they focus on heavy buyers, they lead to a flawed emphasis on loyalty over penetration, targeting over reach, and price promotion over brand building – all strategies proven to be less profitable’.

Just this week the annual Sensis SocialMedia Report asserts:

‘Marketers are failing to give consumers what they want on social media after mistakenly believing the public are keen to have a two-way conversation with their brand.’

All good so far.

84% of marketers are looking to open a conversation, [but] most punters want discounts (45%), give-aways (35%) and coupons (30%).

Exactly, customers don’t want to engage they just want to get the brands and products they already like and use, for cheaper.

Except, the Sensis report seems to indicate that this is what they should be given.

‘[its] important for brands to take a softly, softly approach when first building an audience base before moving to a more sales-driven message. People are engaging with businesses and once they have established a relationship they are absolutely open to…offers and incentives.’

Aberrant Salience Meets Rosser Reeves Uptown.

A problem with the mind’s regulation of salience.
States of psychosis in which the wrong things appear important.

Like the focus on heavy buyers,
The flawed emphasis on loyalty over penetration,
Tight targeting over broad reach,
And price promotion over brand building.

All strategies proven to be less profitable.
And yet still widely practiced and recommended.

Friday, May 15, 2015

catenaccio, totaalvoetbal, tiki-taka

'That’s the essence of strategy: to outperform rivals, who are trying to do better than us' 

Phil Rosenzweig ‘Left Brain, Right Stuff’ 2015 

On the evening of 31 May 1972 in Rotterdam, Ajax of Amsterdam defeat Internazionale of Milan 2-0 - via two second-half goals from Johan Cruyff - to win the European Champions cup for the second successive year.

The Times reported ‘Ajax proved that creative attack is the real lifeblood of the game; that blanket defence can be outwitted and outmanoeuvred, and by doing so they made the outlines of the night a little sharper and the shadows a little brighter.’

This game is often said to be totaalvoetbal’s finest moment.

The Dutch press trumpeted ‘The Inter system undermined. Defensive football is destroyed.’ 

The Inter system, or catenaccio was a tactical system in football with a strong emphasis on defence.

The system had been employed most notably and successfully by Helenio Herrera, coach for the great Internazionale team - known as Grande Inter - in the latter half of the1960s.

Inter dominated domestic Italian football during this period and when they won three Scudetti, two European Champions Cups and two Intercontinental Cups.

Herrera adapted the traditional Italian 5–3–2 formation known as the verrou (door bolt) - a parking-the-bus approach focused on preventing opponents goal-scoring opportunities - to include the new idea of the swift counter-attack.

Counter-attacking being a rapid back-to-the-front tactic typically beginning with long passes from the defence catching opponents out of position while they are focused on attacking manuevers.

Key to the catenaccio system – and rapid counter-attacking - was the introduction of the role of a libero or sweeper. The libero is a free creative defender who operates behind a line of three defenders, ‘sweeping up’ loose balls, double-marking and setting up counter-attacks from behind the defence.

The Grande Inter team were captained by libero Armando Picchi.
Though perhaps the most famous sweeper of all is the German, Franz Beckenbauer.
The irony of this fact shall become apparent.

Herrera was also notable introducing motivational psych tactics and was good for a few one-liners.

‘Class + Preparation + Intelligence + Athleticism = Championships’ 

But while Inter and catenaccio were dominating European football a new development began to emerge in the Netherlands.

Totaalvoetbal, (total football) pioneered by Ajax of Amsterdam, under the guidance of coach Rinus Michels emerged from around 1965, flourished between 1970 and 1974, and that one night in May 1972 appeared to have effectively killed Herrera's catenaccio stone dead.

To observers at the time totaalvoetbal, seemed to be the antithesis of catenaccio.

For a start, totaalvoetbal is an attack-oriented strategy.

A pro-active approach. There is no counter-attacking, total football works by constant positional interchange among the players, pressing hard to gain and keep possession while preventing the opposition from having the ball.

The genius of total football was its agile approach.
NO player is fixed in his role; anyone can assume the role of an attacker, a midfielder or a defender, depending on the nature of the play.

In the 1970-73 era Ajax dominated the domestic Dutch league and won three successive European Cups. In 1972, after Ajax defeated Inter 2–0 in that European Cup final the experts confidently announced the victory as the ‘destruction of catenaccio’ .

The final nail in the catenaccio coffin was the following year as Ajax destroyed Milan 6–0 to lift the European Super Cup.

While seemingly polar opposites in approach - catenaccio being defence oriented, totaalvoetbal attack based – there are commonalities.

The Dutch striker Johan Cruyff, for example, was totaalvoetbal’s poster child.

Cruyff was officially a centre forward, however he played all over the pitch, starting attacks from wherever he could collect a pass.

Cruyff's teammates had to adapt themselves flexibly around his movements, regularly switching positions so that the team kept its shape, although the positions were filled by anyone.

In a sense the Cruyff role was the attacking free role version of the defensive libero of the Grande Inter era.

Cruyff summed up his (total football) philosophy:
"Simple football is the most beautiful. But playing simple football is the hardest thing." 

The 1970/71 Ajax coach Michels was later appointed Dutch national team coach for the 1974 FIFA World Cup in Germany.

Unsurprisingly, most of the 1974 squad were players from Ajax and rivals Feyenoord (who also played a style similar to the Ajax totaalvoetbal).

The Dutch cruised through their first and second round matches, defeating Argentina 4–0, East Germany 2–0, and holders Brazil 2–0 to set up a final with hosts West Germany, which they were expected to win.

So, when Johan Neeskens scored from the penalty spot to give the Netherlands a 1–0 lead within 80 seconds of play (and before a German player had even touched the ball) totaalvoetbal’s moment on the global stage seemed to be imminent.

However, the German defenders Beri Vogts and – in a throwback to the Inter catenaccio system – libero Franz Beckenbauer, were able to snuff out Cruyff's influence, dominate midfield, and went on to win 2-1.

Using the same strategy, the Dutch reached the 1978 World Cup final only to fall once more at the final hurdle, this time to Argentina.

Perhaps totaalvoetbal could be countered?
Perhaps defensive football was not destroyed?

Though neither the ’74 German side, nor the ’78 Argentina team would be described as defensive, in the catenaccio sense.

Even Beckenbauer, in his sweeper role, often played further up the pitch into midfield.

While both the park-the-bus and counter-attack of catenaccio, and the all-out-attack of totaalvoetbal, had each delivered success in the short term it turns out that neither strategy was enough on its own .

Just like how ‘performance’ based direct digital marketing that seeks to capture intent and convert will not deliver long term effects on its own, without the presence of brand building work, conducted consistently over time to create demand.

Just this week, Amsterdam’s own Martin Weigel addressed this very issue, in a long piece - that is worth taking the time to digest in its entirety – a section of which is quoted below..

‘Under pressure to account for our activities and to show that they are having an effect (any effect) and hooked on the crack cocaine of the short-term, we seize on intermediate metrics…like crazed junkies desperate for the next fix. 

This data might be exciting, it might be highly responsive to communications activity, it might be easy to measure, and it might give us impressive sounding numbers to use in case study videos, but it is short-term data that tells us nothing about the long-term business effects of our efforts. 

Worse, our holding up of short-term metrics that simply measure the exposure of consumers to our ideas as evidence of our success relegates our contribution to the mere distribution of content. And so – such is our appetite for evidence that something happened in the short-term – we relentlessly conspire to render the creation of enduring ideas, the building of memories, the shaping of perceptions, preferences, and behaviours a trivial side-show. 

The very things which that are the source of our value as an industry, and the generators of sustainable value for brands and businesses.’

The way forward is not this OR that, but this AND that.

Johan Cruyff, at the end of his playing career now knew this.
He took over as coach of Barcelona in1988 and continued through to 1996.
During this time Cruyff introduced a new theory.


Cruyff’s revelation incorporated the purism of totaalvoetbal and the pragmatism of catenaccio.

Not this OR that, but this AND that.

Characterised by zonal play, short passing and movement, working the ball through various channels, and maintaining possession tiki-taka is associated with Barcelona from Johan Cruyff's era through to the present, and also the Spanish national team.

Crucially, Tiki-taka is "both defensive and offensive in equal measure" – the team is always in possession, so never needs to switch between defending and attacking. 

Tiki-taka – as employed by the Spanish national team has won them Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012.

And also continues to be used by arguably the greatest club team in the world, Barcelona, which have won two European Champion’s League titles in recent years while also co-dominating Spanish domestic football (alongside the slightly more pragmatic Real Madrid).

Tika-taka has been described as the most difficult version of football possible: an uncompromising passing game, coupled with intense, high pressing.

To the same token, combining direct response with long term brand-building - 'brand response' - is not easy either. In fact it's perhaps the most difficult form of marketing possible.

Further in Martin Wiegel’s article he points out:

‘The short-term is invariably easier to manage and measure than the long-term…what is important, and what is easy to measure, are not always the same thing. We forget the distinction between the important and the easy at our peril.’

Cruyff, similarly is wary of being data or performance driven at the expense of all else.

'I find it terrible when talents are rejected based on computer data. Based on the criteria at Ajax now I would have been rejected. When I was 15, I couldn’t kick a ball 15 meters with my left and maybe 20 with my right. My qualities - technique and vision - are not detectable by a computer’.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

football's not a matter of life or death, it's nudge more important than that.

I’m not sure if this story that I heard at the weekend qualifies as a nudge or a full-on behaviour change intervention. Or something in between.

My 6-year-old boy and I were listening to the keeper talk at the giraffe enclosure in Melbourne Zoo, who gave us the gist of the following story.

The giraffes in the zoo have come from the Melako Conservancy in Northern Kenya, one of 26 community conservation areas managed by the Northern Rangelands Trust.

This area covers about 1500 square miles and, alongside the giraffes, it is home to approximately 40,000 Rendille people, semi-nomadic groups who’s main livelihood revolves around rearing of livestock.

In traditional Rendille culture, young men between the ages of 13 and 25 went through initiation to gain status and become a warrior.

Among the rituals the hunting and killing of the native animals such as giraffes, zebras and oryx.

The traditional role of the warrior had been to protect the community, acquire livestock and, as a by product, demonstrate their 'fitness' and gain subsequent status and reproductive advantages. 

The top boys would obviously become tribe leaders of the future, with all the perks that go with that role.

Times have changed, there’s less imperative for young Rendille men to become traditional warriors however old habits die hard and the lads tended to still cause trouble with rival gangs, hunt the wildlife, to jostle for group status.

The bigger problem now is that certain species including Beisa oryx, Grevy’s zebra, giraffe and gerenuk are now becoming endangered.

So the NRT people and representatives from Zoo’s Victoria came up with an intervention that they hoped would work with the need for the nascent warriors to compete for group status but divert it away from the behaviours that put the animals under threat.

It turns out that the Rendille boys other principle interest other than the activities mentioned, was soccer*.

So the NRT and ZV set about bringing in the kit needed to set up pitches, balls and strips.

The Melako league now consists of 16 teams.

The nudgey bit is that the teams are named after the wildlife that were previously under threat and incorporated into the team badges printed on the team shirt.

The NRT are measuring the impact of this in a reduction in what they call flight distance. 

When wildlife is feels stressed or harassed it is more difficult for humans to get close to them, resulting in longer flight distance.

When wildlife feel less wary of humans then the flight distance is shorter and it is easier to get closer to them, and to count the numbers.

According to our zookeeper friend, the numbers are improving.

*I'm using the term soccer so as not to confuse with the strange game that passes as football in Australia, ok?

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

the brains of millennials are (not) being rewired by the internet

There is a popular idea.

One that you probably encounter, in some variant, a few times every week.

It goes along these lines.

The internet is rewiring the brains of millennials, as they evolve and adapt to the new processing skills they need to survive in today’s information saturated environment.

Among the essential adaptations are things like rapidly searching, assessing quality, and synthesizing vast quantities of information and data.

Some pundits go as far as to add that the ability to think about one thing in isolation, in some depth, will be of far less consequence for most people in the near future, therefore contributing to new social divides and labour divides between these new ‘supertaskers’ and the pervious generation of dullards.

On the other hand perhaps the internet has produced a generation addicted to quick-fixes of info-nuggets, self-obsessed, averse to any critical analysis, making shallow choices and chasing instant gratification.

There’s not much wrong with that description either, except there’s nothing particularly new or adapted to behold, and it certainly wasn’t the product of the internet.

It’s a fairly standard illustration of young human behaviour throughout the ages.

I prefer the explanation offered by the evolutionary psychologist, Steven Pinker.

‘Claims that the Internet is changing human thought are propelled by a number of forces: the pressure on pundits to announce that this or that "changes everything"; a superficial conception of what "thinking" is that conflates content with process…

The most interesting trend in the development of the Internet is not how it is changing people's ways of thinking but how it is adapting to the way that people think.'

The most popular and successful things on the internet are the tools that have adapted themselves to serve natural human behaviour.

Facebook, Twitter, Tinder, Instagram and new arrivals such as Snapchat and Periscope work so well because they are perfectly adapted to allow us to display (or most often fake) specific personality traits.

These traits are the ‘central six’ as described by another evolutionary psychologist, Geoffrey Miller.
The central six are General intelligence, Openness, Conscientiousness, Agreeableness, Stability and Extraversion.

This set supersedes any Myers-Briggs nonsense, and the briefest perusal of anyone’s Twitter stream can reveal points to be placed against each of these criteria.

[Note: While it will not always give an exact score of the real personality traits of an individual it will give an accurate representation of what they are attempting to fake.

Miller’s general description of humans as ‘hypersocial, semi-monogamous, status-seeking primates’ serves as a decent rule of thumb for all behaviour]

Additionally, it seems that much of the ‘rewiring the brain’ narrative – particularly in media and comms circles - seems to stem from:

1. A proliferation of neuro-bollocks (this shall be addressed in another post)
2. And the brain-as-computer metaphor.

There are a large number of reasons why this metaphor is not useful and, for the most part, completely wrong however one particular difference should be most interesting for us advertising types.

Computers are binary with a numerically ordered and numbered memory. If it wants to find something it goes to a specific address and picks up the piece of information.

This is known as byte-addressable memory.

While the promise of highly targeted advertising’s effectiveness sounds plausible, it is also binary – byte addressable.

But brain chemistry runs on content addressable memory or associative memory. 

The big difference is that when a memory is piqued in the human mind a signal is sent to the entire memory and those memory locations that have a scrap of related information all respond at once.

This is why familiar and popular brands become salient in buying or usage contexts – the number and quality of associations is strong enough to bring the brand ‘to mind’.

With that thought perhaps another interesting development of the Internet is not how it is changing the way brands advertise but how the internet is adapting to the way that advertising works.

For example, Facebook Video Ads are noe being bought and measured in a way that’s pretty similar to how advertisers have historically bought and measured on TV. 

And Bloomberg reports that Snapchat’s new ‘Discover’ feature ‘looks a lot like a basic cable package’.

The free service includes 11 ‘TV’ channels, including CNN, ESPN, the Food Network, National Geographic, People, and Vice, alongside Comedy Central.

The channels produce their own videos and also sell their own ads, giving Snapchat a cut of the revenue.

Interestingly, with a user base of 100 million, Snapchat says it doesn’t track user behaviour to target ads; advertisers get the run of the whole network.

It may be that the internet is adapting to the way that advertising – and the human mind – works.
For both advertisers and humans the principal appeal of the internet is for signaling (or faking) the central six personality traits to everyone else.

In ‘The Tyranny of Dead Internet Ideas’ as referenced in Don Marti’s seminal piece on signaling from a brand pov  ‘How Signalling Breaks Down’ - Don Weaver says:

‘One can argue, and maybe I’m the first one to do it, that all this targeting and audience segmentation might be creating an internet that’s worse for the consumer.
By downplaying the need for context, we’re actually dis-incentivizing the creation of quality content and environments.’

So the internet is not rewiring our brains, it's adapting to how our brains work.
Likewise successful advertising and marketing on the internet - as with any other medium -will be the kind that adapts best to human nature rather than what technology can do.

Albeit at the risk of muddling, and if we must have a metaphor, perhaps the one suggested by the view of Tooby and Cosmides, the pioneers of evolutionary psychology.

'The mind is a system of organs of computation, designed by natural selection to solve the kinds of problems our ancestors faced in their foraging way of life'
In this sense the mind is more like an iPhone.

The mind is made up of ‘apps' that are domain-specific processes -  mating behaviour, predator avoidance, kin selection, language etc - that all evolved in our ancestral environment to meet the specific challenges of that environment.

Looking at human behaviour today, a lot of it doesn't seem to make much sense from a biological standpoint.

We relentlessly compete to climb the corporate ladder rather than spending time with our families;
We take drugs and drink too much alchohol.
We stuff our faces with sugar and junk food;
We obsess over celebrities , instead of going out and forming real relationships
We are addicted to communication technology and news that is manipulating our feelings and behavior in subtle ways we don't notice.

But of course they do make sense when you they do make sense when you recognise that these behaviours are all responses to recent developments in human technology and media that have emerged in the last couple of hundred years, and that for the 99% of the time that humans have been on this planet (thats about 8 million years) these things didn't exist.